The last few weeks of school are always riddled with end-of-the-year activities that are meant to culminate a school year and fill it with final positive memories and good feelings. In our case, we had a Cancer Walk, a day at the park with popsicles and sidewalk chalk and the annual school egg drop. We put together a picture slideshow for the kids to enjoy and reminisce about the year they spent in fourth grade. We relaxed our class schedules and let them have a little fun.
Yesterday afternoon I received a pre-recorded phone message from my school, cancelling classes again due to this extreme cold snap we are having in my area. The temperatures are dropping well below zero, with wind chills falling below -20.
The schools worry for students who walk to school, with weather personnel reporting the onset of frostbite after just two minutes of being outside improperly covered. It is unsafe for the students to be outside, even for very short times, so they cancel school.
At my school, new teachers are observed by administration twice a year, in two different classes at a time. This means that either the principal or the assistant principal observes you a total of four times during the year.
When I got to school Monday morning, I saw the familiar observation paperwork lying in my mailbox.
I don’t normally feel nervous when these observations happen. I am excited to have my lessons watched and I try my best to hear and welcome all criticism. After all, I still am a new teacher and I still have a lot to learn. It is important to have feedback on your lessons and your students because this additional perspective can be invaluable.
In special education, it often seems more important to know every last detail about our students, especially if they can't effectively communicate their needs. However, in my experience, I have noticed that the information presented in their cumulative folders and by previous teachers is often skewed. If the child had some difficult behaviors, these are amplified by the reports. If the child had a particularly endearing personality, this characteristic is too exaggerated.
As a result of this inherent bias, I sometimes think it is best to begin with a clean slate and allow my own experience with my students in an educational setting to define my teaching practice with them. By giving each student this equal opportunity, I am able to run my classroom with best practice in mind and afford each student the opportunity to be him or herself.
I have read a few articles in the last week that have bashed the switch to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The typical criticisms include that the CCSS are too much of a one-size-fits-all approach, that the CCSS put too much emphasis on high-stakes testing and that student readiness levels are inadequate. Here in Illinois, teachers are feeling the push towards a higher standard and the consequence of how student achievement is going to be measured against our own evaluations.
I am feeling the pressure as much as anyone. Special education students don’t make typical amounts of yearly progress as a rule. I am not a tenured faculty member anywhere. The stress of what all of this means has not been lost on me.
Knowing all of this, I am writing in defense of the Common Core.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! To celebrate, here are some thankful thoughts from our Reality 101 bloggers.
Rob: I get by with a little help from my colleagues
Teaching is a tough business. There are so many things that influence our jobs on a daily basis that we have absolutely no control over. What we do have control over is where and who we work with. I am thankful for my colleagues. Over my past two+ years at my school, I’ve worked with fantastic people who keep me going day in and day out. They listen when I need to vent; they talk things out when I need to problem solve; they fight for me when I need them to. Without them, I never would have made it through the first two years, let alone think about a third!
Ann-Bailey: Lucky to have spontaneity, challenges & a break to recharge
I'm thankful for a profession where I am never bored, where no day is ever the same, and I can never be positive in the morning what will happen in the afternoon. I am thankful for the students who teach me, challenge me, and stretch me to be a better teacher. I am thankful for colleagues who take the time to collaborate and think outside the box about how to best meet the needs of our kids. And, of course, I am thankful for Thanksgiving break when I can recharge and relax after a long fall.
Lisa: Keep an eye out for the wonderful
It can be difficult to look at the pile of paperwork in front of me and embrace the feeling of gratitude. This mound of paper looms: a backlog of AIMSweb probes to assess and input, ominous IEP updates, student-needs worksheets, goals to write, progress monitoring to be done in triplicate…
Yet, I do feel this thankfulness. Today, a young girl distinguished the lowercase letter “b” from its sneaky mirror-twin. Another student finally finished a second draft of his first five-paragraph essay after hours of pointing at words and helping him scroll through the editing marks. A pair of girls worked together to create a turkey glyph, one helping the other read without so much as a raised eyebrow.
I am grateful for my colleagues who support me. I am grateful that need is no matter.
I am grateful to the Common Core, which has made us look at our instruction under a microscope and make positive changes for our kids.
This time of year, the time between Thanksgiving and the winter recess moves quickly. It is fraught with bits of assessment, final qualifications, report cards and other necessary paperwork. It is easy to feel bogged down, overwhelmed and overworked. Instead, I encourage teachers to look around them and feel gratitude. Wonderful things always seem to happen if you are willing to do the looking.
Adrien: A fresh perspective on thankfulness
This Thanksgiving I am thankful for many, many things! I am thankful for big things like my students who share the thrills of their achievements with me every day! And for small things like my students’ parents who trust me daily to teach and care for their grown children. For the easy-to-go-unnoticed things like my colleagues who are endless sources of support and ideas for me and my administrators who make the effort to value me, my students, and my work. The Thanksgiving holiday lends itself to the fresh perspective of thankfulness but I know I could certainly benefit from stretching it out through the rest of the year as well!
Today, I was talking with one of my coworkers about getting through graduate school while working. To make a long conversation short: there is nothing fun about going to graduate school while you are teaching. I should know because I have done it before and I am doing it now. The reason I am completing my second master’s in ELL (the first one was in special education) is because I am desperate to learn what will help my student population.
So many of my students are both in special education classes and come from a bilingual home. I often feel like I am ill-equipped to be their teacher because I am not bilingual. For this reason, I trudge off to graduate school every Wednesday at a nearby university. I am trying to better myself as an educator.
However, I have been to graduate school before. The story seems all too familiar.
Over the weekend, I
attended my first Special Education UN-Conference,
which was unlike any other professional development I’ve ever had. It was called an UN-Conference because it was less like a room full of people
listening to a speaker and more like a gathering to share information and learn
in an open environment through discussions, demonstrations and interactions.
The conference, presented
by the Illinois-based special education technology collective called SET
Connections (www.setconnections.org), was meant to deliver information about how to better
integrate technology into our classrooms.
I had been to this conference three times before, each time feeling
equal parts overwhelmed with technology and hopeful that I too could find a way
to make these strategies work for my students.
Our school year began ridiculously early this year – Aug. 12. My summer went by fast and punctuated with
teaching summer school and cramming two condensed grad school classes into the
space that was left. Because of this
early start, we are now into our 11th week of school and have just completed
our first full quarter.
I’m not entirely sure of the utility of beginning and ending
school so early. Is it the summer crop
schedule or a tiresome need to align with the local high school calendar or
just a stubborn tradition that mandates our academic timetable? I’m not sure of the reason, but this early
start has had a troublesome effect on me.
All year I have felt underprepared, like I have been
crawling uphill to catch up with my students’ needs.
One of my students came up to me the other day and asked me
why I became a teacher. I tried to
explain it to him by sharing the wonderful feeling that follows teaching
someone a new skill. I tried to describe
the fantastic moment when a difficult task finally clicks after a hundred
trials. I tried to express how it feels
to empower another person with knowledge.
He shrugged at me, sighed and said, “Why would anyone want to go to
The truth is I became a teacher because I don’t know what
else I could ever do.